With a pleasant arrival at Schiphol airport from London, my next step was to find the correct bus to the camping site. This proved to be a simple task as the first bunch of rowdy Brits drinking beer at the airport bus-stop was a clear identifier that I was in the right place. Being my first time in Amsterdam, I had certain expectations of what the people would be like – and with an undeniable air of friendliness and festivity along the journey these expectations were easily surpassed. This energy flowed directly into the campsite, where there was no shortage of action despite it being the night before the core three-day festival began. Exhausted after travelling and making sure everything was set up in our site, I decided to have an early night and wake up refreshed for an exciting day ahead.
After a stress-free entry into the festival grounds, my first stop was at the UFO stage (dedicated to those who like harder, more experimental sounds and the largest stage after the Main Stage). Here, Rrose was warming things up with a typically inventive and artistic live-set. Filling the room with ambient textures and eerie soundscapes, the set made for an interesting warm-up. At the Mainstage on the other hand, Dekmantel Soundsystem (Casper Tielrooij & Thomas Martojo) were warming things up. As the festival’s organizers, it was nice to see that they gave themselves the opening duties, ensuring that the right tone was set for the acts to follow. After a bit of further exploring and quick stopovers at the other stages (Greenhouse and Selectors) it was back to the UFO stage for one of the more unique live-acts of the festival, Holly Herndon. Having recently toured as an ‘opening-act’ with Radiohead, I was very curious to see what she was about. Clearly influenced by the IDM wave, the music was glitchy, industrial and loop-based (in the best of ways), but what really made the act stand out were the visuals. Controlled in real-time with her VJ (Mat Dryhurst), the interactions with the crowd via text messages on the large LED backdrop made the performance truly unique.
Holly Herndon – Pic by Bart Heemskerk
DJ Harvey – Pic by Bart Heemskerk
Having taken San Proper’s slot at the Selectors stage, next on my list was to see DJ Harvey play this earlier slot. Never lacking in energy, this set really got the party started for me. Classic tunes, played by a legendary selector, the crowd was clearly feeding off the energy. Although it was difficult to pull myself away from this, I simply couldn’t resist going across to the Greenhouse for Moodymann. A truly unique figure, the legend from Detroit was a sight to behold. With a special mystique and unpredictable style, the mere sound of his voice over the mic was enough to send the packed room into rapture. And if that wasn’t enough, the moment when he dropped Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ was one for the record books! Next up on my personal agenda was a set that I was particularly curious to see. Although not necessarily my taste in music, I couldn’t resist going to check out Ricardo Villalobos at the Mainstage. Scheduled for a 3-hour set, I was very interested to see the direction he would take. Notorious for his affectionate stage antics and left-of-centre selections, his set at Dekmantel was nothing but solid, infectious tech-house grooves at their finest. Turning out to be my highlight of Day One, I realized very quickly that this is what Dekmantel is about – embracing difference and the unexpected! After this fantastic performance, the UFO stage was in order as the sun began to set, and who better to take us into the night than Rødhåd!? One of the most consistently brilliant techno DJs of the past few years, his set was nothing short of spectacular. Taking the crowd on a journey through the trippier side of techno whilst throwing in some more old-school cuts, it was a vintage Rødhåd set which made for the perfect segway into the pummeling analogue live-set of Surgeon. Catching a bit of his set, my attention turned quickly to the Mainstage where one of the most anticipated performances of the weekend was about to take place. Having overheard people in the campsite speaking of their excitement for this one, it was no wonder why the Mainstage dancefloor was already packed to the rafters during Joy Orbison and Ben UFO’s classy UK-tinged B2B. Having closed the Mainstage at previous Dekmantel festivals, Jeff Mills is known to give the crowd a serious education in classic Detroit-style techno. Opening with some ambient soundscapes, it wasn’t long before Mill’s took the music to a serious pace. Running through a few classics and some more recent productions, it was his definitive 909 improvisations that really got the crowd going! There is simply nothing like hearing Mill’s tearing apart the classic drum machine, until the timeless melody for ‘The Bells’ drops. A true techno ‘anthem’, the crowd duly erupted with energy before he closed out a brilliant set with a final improvisation. With my energy zapped, it was time to head back to the campsite for some much-needed rest, as Saturday was just a few winks away.
Moodymann – Pic by Bart Heemskerk
Jeff Mills – Pic by Bart Heemskerk
Upon entry to the festival for Day Two, my ears where kindly greeted to the sounds of Midland’s set on the Mainstage. Another act that was looked forward to by many at the campsite, he was clearly doing the job as the floor was already heaving by 4pm. I decided to take another walk around the grounds to see if anything else would grab my attention. In this instance I was take by surprise by Egyptian Lover at the Greenhouse. Again, I didn’t have any preconceived plan to go to this performance, but nevertheless I was blown away by his dynamic interaction with the crowd. Teasing with classic LA-style sexual innuendo and funky rhythm it was his handling of the 808 that truly impressed! If Jeff Mills is the king of the 909, then Egyptian Lover must be king of the 808! Getting the crowd to chant “8-0-Motherfucking-8” whilst putting on an impeccable improvisation was another one of those unique, standout Dekmantel Festival moments. Shortly thereafter, I was off to the Mainstage for another highly anticipated set, this time in the form of Daniel Avery B2B Roman Flügel, two highly esteemed producers known for their fresh takes on contemporary house and techno. With the sun out in full force and the crowd anticipating the imminent sunset, the two established the perfect tone for the evening. With rolling, tripped-out techno they got feet moving and heads bobbing with clear affirmation from the crowd. Turning out to be my favourite stage of the festival, I was again feeling myself gravitating back to UFO. At this point it was Peter van Hoesen taking the reigns with a special one-hour live set. I was really impressed, and as a new face on the Dekmantel roster I have no doubt that he will soon became a regular name at the festival. Thereafter I took a quick look at The Black Madonna at the Greenhouse, which was a serious schooling in solid, jacking house and then made my way back to UFO for one of my favourite DJs at the moment, DJ Nobu. Taking over from van Hoesen, Nobu turned things up a notch with some seriously tripped-out techno excursions. Grainy, industrial and fast, he embodied the vision of the UFO stage as the sweat began to build. Back at the Mainstage Tale of Us where doing what they do best as I made a quick stopover, however, I was quickly back at UFO for one of my favourite sets of the weekend. Having a diverse catalogue, Matrixxman has been at the forefront of contemporary techno producers from America and a regular at Dekmantel. After his set it was glaringly obvious why he was invited back. With some balls-to-the-wall techno, it was, however, his own productions that really shone through. His rolling bass and Mills-esque snare-lines were an instant favourite with the crowd, and then to top it off, closing with Aztec Mystic/Rolando’s ‘Jaguar’ was a stroke of genius that sent the crowd wild – a serious dancefloor workout! Coming to the end of the night, there was really nothing that could beat his set. With heavyweights Nina Kraviz at UFO and Dixon at Mainstage thereafter, there was still a lot of good music to get through, but even without them, I would’ve been sufficiently satisfied with yet another fantastic day!
DJ Nobu – Pic by Bart Heemskerk
Bittersweet was the feeling of the final day. On one hand, the festival was coming to an end, but on the other, we were in for possibly one of the best line-ups of the weekend. First on my agenda was Mike Parker’s live set at UFO. Getting the crowd moving with his signature tripped-out techno this was the ideal warm-up for the day. From there, I decided to move around the festival grounds to see what else was on the go – and it was at the Selectors stage where my attention was grabbed. Laying down some serious acid-infused tech-house was none other than Magda and Mike Servito. This dynamic B2B set was a real crowd-pleaser as the dancefloor quickly started to pack despite the numerous other attractions at some of the bigger stages. One such attraction, however, seemed to be on everyone’s minds as people slowly started migrating to the main stage for Fatima Yamaha. One of the breakthrough acts at Dekmantel Festival last year, he was invited to take his unique live act from the Boiler Room stage [of last year] to the Main Stage. A crowd favourite (especially within the Dutch scene), his creative take on synth-pop and house did not disappoint. Hereafter it was all the UFO stage for me as another of my ‘can’t-miss’ acts was taking the reigns. One of my inspirations in the scene, Robert Hood, was doing what he does best. Picking up the tempo with solid, stripped-down gospel-infused techno, his set was something to behold! Being one of the many Detroit-based bookings at the event, it was clear why these guys are still as relevant today as ever! As long-time innovators in the scene, it is really amazing to see just how well they are able to move a predominantly ‘younger’ crowd – timeless stuff! Thereafter the floor was left to two of the legends of the European scene, the original Berghain residents, Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock. Both were invited to play two sets at the festival (once each at Boiler Room and UFO respectively) and it was clear why! Although I only caught them at the UFO stage, I heard ‘through the grapevine’ that their sets at the Boiler Room stage were equally as impressive! With Dettmann up first, he played a consist set of driving techno cuts, however, it was Klock who really stole the show with his closing performance. A truly top-class DJ, his set was a flawless blend of new releases and classic material that made for a hair-raising curtain-closer for the festival. With so many hands-in-the-air moments, one of my favourties was when he dropped the Christian Smith remix of Carl Craig’s classic ‘At Les’, a perfect melodic interlude that was thereafter closed out in true Klock style!
All in all, there is really not much left to say, other than the fact that I think that Dekmantel has and continues to set a very high benchmark for festival promoters. Everything seamlessly fell into place – with a carefully considered line-up came the perfect crowd, within a perfect setting and perfect weather. It was one of those weekends where the stars aligned and made for an unforgettable experience. And judging by the amount of Dekmantel t-shirts seen at the festival and on the streets of Amsterdam and kids buying Dekmantel records at Rush Hour, the guys behind the scenes clearly did their jobs!
UFO stage – Pic by Desiré van den Berg
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